Sour and sweet
'Tis the night before Christmas and outside our house a bunch of carol singers are seeking charity. My reaction is to tell them how unmoved I am by their glowing goodwill and seasonal squawking, but my wife beats me to the door. She shares festive pleasantries with them before stuffing a tackily excessive #163;20 note into their tinselled collecting tin.
"That's not what I was going to give them," I tell my wife. The carollers are now at our next-door neighbour's house. I can hear their Irish wolfhound contributing to Ding Dong Merrily on High.
"I know what you were going to give them," says my wife, "but the members of the church choir willing to give up their time to raise money for the homeless don't want your views on how the season of goodwill promotes alcoholism, fuels the debt crisis and increases the incidence of domestic violence." She lingers on the last two words until I get the hint.
The problem with being a teacher - especially a primary teacher - is that all your Christmases come early. And I don't mean that in a good way. Even before the turkey has uttered its last gobble, the school Christmas tree has been felled. Its lights have gone out, its baubles have been removed and the fairy on top is relieved at no longer having a Norwegian spruce stuck up its arse.
"There was a time when you loved Christmas," says my wife. "What happened to the creative genius who wrote that hilarious yet touching version of the Christmas story for the school nativity? What became of the 'Great Eddisano' man of mystery, whose amazing #163;10 note trick was the highlight of the children's party? Where is that snake-hipped 'John Travolta' who strutted his stuff at the Santa Claus disco?"
For a few moments I am transported back in time, but it is a bittersweet journey. I shake my head to dispel the memories. "Yes, well, that's Christmas past, isn't it? We had time to do it properly back then. These days Christmas has to be squeezed in around curriculum needs and school priorities. It's a complete nightmare."
A vision of Christmas present unfolds. It reminds me of a motorway pile-up. The juggernaut of glitter collides with the Eddie Stobart of glue. The sweet sound of children singing gives way to tantrums as the Christmas party screeches to a halt. Half-eaten sausage rolls bounce down the corridor before coming to rest among torn party hats and screwed up greetings cards.
"Christmas present is a scene of carnage set in a bleak land of disappointing pupil progress reviews, disheartening end-of-term assessments and missed performance management targets," I lament.
"There, there, I know things are tough at the moment," my wife says with the optimism of someone who is not a primary teacher with an underperforming class. "But in Christmases to come, you'll laugh about this."
"There won't even be a Christmas in the future," I tell her. "What's the point if it just gets in the way of pupil attainment? In my opinion, we should get 'Here lies Christmas' engraved on a simple headstone, plant it in a quiet corner of the nature area and forget about it."
"Oh, don't be such a miserable old Scrooge. Look, why don't you cheer yourself up with a traditional, stripy, peppermint-flavoured boiled sweet given to you by one of your children?" suggests my wife. She opens a glass jar and holds it out for me. "Fancy a humbug?"
Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.